If there's one thing I can't handle about meeting new people, it's the amount of small talk we both have to endure just to "break the ice." The situation becomes particularly awkward when you were trying really hard to avoid eye contact and instead got reeled into an extensive "social engagement." Although a necessary part of any awkward, clammy handed first encounter, we often feel like we must over compensate for our inadequacies by spewing out as many words as we can in the first five minutes. Yet, there's really nothing more tedious than listening to the cliché meteorologist or worse, the overzealous self -marketer. While some have good intentions, most feel equally as awkward having to perform their well versed nod, smile and laugh routine. I can't say I haven't employed my own vague lines akin to an automated telephone voice system, but the more I've seen how clumsy language can get, the more I've learned about the virtue of challenging conventional conversation etiquette. So if modern tendencies to talk more about nothing and less about something are clearly going out of style, why do we perpetuate them?
My best friend is a master of small talk- but that's not how we met. Our friendship was based in a strongest assets is her straightforward communication - there is nothing that can leave her at a loss for words. When some people claim their friendship is the one where they finish each other's sentences, they clearly haven't met us and experienced one of our "silent" sessions. These are the ones when we can literally sit in a room and say nothing but understand exactly what the other is saying. So, clearly nonverbal communication is a thing - but why can't we skip right to the good stuff instead of beating around the bush?
Simply put, we're uncomfortable talking about more than the typical topics - weather, work, school - mostly because we're really trying to get a feel for how the other person would respond. It takes years of friendship to become okay with sitting in silence. As Dr. Lisa Firestone puts it, we are afraid of new relationships because we're unsure of what to expect and often feel vulnerable if we become too invested in someone. Of course, I'm not asking you to rid yourself of any and all inhibitions and trust freely because trust can be a tricky topic for anyone - I'm merely implying that maybe we often over complicate a simple exchange and set up more barriers than needed. In a perfect world, we would practice genuine social engagements and try to establish meaningful ties instead of padding our sensitive skin with lies and fake laughter.
I think it's completely counter intuitive that someone as skilled in small talk as my best friend could stand to be friends with me to this day - but the real reason behind any dialogue deeper than "weather's nice today" is having faith in what could be from simply this one exchange. This may include - unfortunately - abandoning your inhibitions and trusting someone just enough so they can reciprocate the gesture. The idea falls along the lines of "give a little, get a little," and proposes a possible solution to our biggest dilemma to date - a lack of empathy for one another. Yet, and excuse me if I get too ruminitive, how could we have time for small talk when there are about 7 billion different conversations to be had in a lifetime? I think everyone can benefit from a spiritual soul searching exercise. As my best friend taught me and as Dr. Firestone explains, getting to know yourself and what you want out of a relationship is great starting point to participating in meaningful instead of mundane dialogue. As John Hall writes in a Forbes article on the art of meaningful conversation, decrease personal barriers and try to genuinely relate.
So please, don't ask me what I ate for breakfast, how school is going or if I'm liking this weather because I want to ask you why you wear that ring, who your favorite author is and if you believe in fate or lucky chances. There's nothing I would rather do than learn about your troubles so I can alleviate some of your worry, or your triumphs so I can celebrate them with you. I can only hope that you strive to do the same - and even if you aren't that interested, I can walk away from the conversation knowing that my life has become richer just by listening to one other perspective outside of my own.